“Disassemble the Ordered”

October 2022

Reseeing and Reimagining with NourbeSe Philip

In the past year, whenever I have written to NourbeSe Philip, I received an auto reply message that reads, 

Blacktime is time for chimeful poemhood / but they decree a / jagged chiming now. (Gwendolyn Brooks)

I loafe and invite my Soul; / I lean and loafe at my ease, observing a spear of summer grass. (Walt Whitman)

I will be on retreat for the next several months exploring “Blacktime” and what “chimeful poemhood” may possibly look like in this “jagged chiming.” 

I want to “loafe” and lean into loafing “at my ease,” and while “summer grass,” spear or blade, appears far fetched at this time, perhaps snowflakes will satisfy the need for observation. Most importantly, I want to offer an invitation to my Soul—to do what I do not know . . .

I will be checking email regularly and responding as necessary and as needed, but I will not be taking on any new commitments during this time.

Here’s to the light that blinds and the ever so dark night . . .

nourbeSe philip (PWA—Poet Without Ambition)

Each time I come across these words—and think about Philip taking her time and not waiting for others to give her time—I wonder, What does “Blacktime” look like for a writer who has made significant contributions in many scholarly and artistic spaces, ranging from writing, sculpture, and painting to Black studies, archival studies, gender and feminist theories, postcolonial theory, Caribbean literatures and cultural history, diaspora studies, and theories in poetics? What does retreat look like for a Black woman who has written fifteen acclaimed books across different genres (five collections of poetry, three collections of essays, one collection of essays/interviews, one book of poetry/fiction, one young adult novel, one chapbook, and three dramas)—not to mention six widely anthologized short stories and works selected or commissioned for seven well-circulated, well-regarded nonfiction anthologies—most of which have garnered favorable reviews and attention from international writers, scholars, and press?

Philip’s fluency with/in these literary genres is not simply that of the cross-over writer seeking to broaden their appeal to a mass (read, White) audience; what we get in Philip’s take on these genres is a writer (really, an architect of language) who reworks the material features of a genre, reanimating and reassembling their forms, thereby offering readers the ability to read otherwise: different ways of re-seeing and engaging in the world, but also different ways of reordering our worldviews. Take, as an example, her absorbingly vibrant but under-acclaimed 1988 YA novel on Black girlhood, Harriet’s Daughter, which preserves, in the various registers of Black speech and linguistic styles, histories of displacement, migration, and anti-Black immigrant racism. By juxtaposing these registers of Black speech, Philip showcases what Black folks do with language and the pleasures of resistance in such inventions. Her work opens literary spaces to expand our understanding of what constitutes literary value. She commits to contributing to a vigorous and vital literary culture as well as to a diverse understanding of literary purposes. 

The uptake from literary establishments (publishing industry and literary awards) on Philip’s work manifests what physicist Dennis Gabor describes as a “subjective acoustics,” an apparent deficiency in the standard account of hearing.1 I’ve grown tired of hearing critics describe her writing as “difficult,” “obscurantist,” and other adjectives that explain away why they do not engage with her work, even though they will be the first to acknowledge her influence in poetics and history and politics. Her work embraces a politics of unknowing that pushes us to feel the edges of what we know. When the invitation to edit this special discussion on her work for sx salon arrived, I turned to some of the poets I admire, just as she had turned to some of the poets she admires to make a case in her away message. I did so because to organize the issue I wanted the polyphony of approaches and orientations that is a hallmark of her writing. I invited poets I have heard articulate Philip’s importance to their practice. I wanted an editorial process as active and collaborative as her poetics. Lauren K. Alleyne, David Bradford, Momtaza Mehri, and Juliane Okot Bitek, who all said yes, are poets who share an open willingness to dwell with uncertainty as well as indeterminancy in respect to composition and language’s performance on the page. Their essays here take on a meandering form; they move with a suppleness and vitality of life that allow them to meander with wonderings. They set us up to follow tracks that allow us to arrive at some surprising and intriguing observations.

Even though Philip’s writing prioritizes the Caribbean, and even though I knew not all these poets work in Caribbean literary studies, I nonetheless invited them because Philip’s thinking reverberates in other realms outside the Caribbean. And, as I knew these four would, they have reconfigured how we do the work of criticism, and their essays work in the tradition of a Philip’s essay; they neither defy nor accommodate our expectations of the form, genre, and structure of the essay. The arguments they offer are not in the reproductive language of other criticism of her writing. Which is to say, the essays here are in dialogue at the same time they move with an intensity of engagement that is utterly their own. For these poets, as for Philip, medium is not at the service of meaning: “The spirit in the text and of the text is at work. Working against meaning, working for meaning, working in and out of meaning.”2 From their contributions it is evident that there is no single way for poets to talk about poetry, let alone to write about the work of a poet that one admires. It is not surprising that Philip’s transgeneric practice is on full display, marked by the range of her texts that these poets have chosen to write on.


I want poetry to disassemble the ordered, to create disorder and mayhem so as to release the story that cannot be told, but which, through nontelling, will tell itself.3 (199)

Lauren K. Alleyne’s contribution offers a moving portrait in which we witness the possibilities of portraiture and poetry intersect. She focuses on Philip’s well-read essay “The Absence of Writing, or How I Almost Became a Spy” and brings it into conversation with the lyric poem “Meditation on the Declension of Beauty by the Girl with the Flying Cheek-bones,” both in She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks. Alleyne works with a concept and technique that, for Philip, lie at “the heart of all creative writing”: “i-mage,” and its relatives, “i-magining” and “i-magination.”4 The concept of self in Black i-mage is not limited to the lyric assertion of the first person singular, “I.” Through Alleyne’s own lyric labor, we come to know that Philip’s lyric I is relational, a point made clear in her own drawing on the Rastafari linguistic practice of “I-n-I,” that epistemological stance that favors community and opposes captivity. In so doing, Philip offers to the lyric a level of awareness that recognizes that the value of self-autonomy need not be at the expense of an other. After all, “the expression I-n-I,” according to Jack A. Johnson-Hill, “heralds the collapse of the radical dichotomy between creator and creature and heaven and earth which was a basic premise of Missionary Christianity.”5

Alleyne’s contribution is careful to note moments in the poem that assert the lyric singularity of the Black girl and moments when it is about Black social life. She teases out an understanding of Black i-mage that foregrounds a Black world imaginary, one in which Philip’s work is at once interested in the larger picture of how Africans and their descendants in the so-called New World are viewed through the lyric logic of beauty and language. Alleyne’s arguments make it clear that the poetic stance of “the Girl with the flying cheek-bones” is not to be taken lightly, and her focus on the Black i-mage, this Black lyric social expression that subverts the social bonds of the lyric’s privacy, is an occasion for celebration. Through her attention to the materiality of language and page layout, we come to witness how the lyricism in the poem’s Black idiom quiets the noisy colonial standard of beauty and language that often yokes Black subjection and subjectivity. In Alleyne’s reading, Philip’s Black lyricism occasions meditation as it addresses, in an anti-Black world, an atypical subject: a Black girl with “flying cheek-bones.” And, as Alleyne argues, she is beautiful.


Uncertainty is my familiar. (199)
I enter a different land, a land of language—I allow the language to lead me somewhere—don’t know where, but I trust. (191)

The formal inventiveness that Alleyne draws our attention to with “Black i-mage” is evident in David Bradford’s contribution, too. His essay repeats a three-part structure nine times. The first part begins with a question that refuses to be a joke yet operates as one. In the second part of the structure, he observes a performance by Philip, imbibing her overlooked playfulness. He zooms in on the phenomenology of her performative archives and surfaces the pedagogical aspects in her performance. The third part is a response to Philip’s Looking for Livingstone: An Odyssey of Silence, a text that straddles poetry, prose, diary entry, travel narrative, and performance script.6 This pattern of repeating structure, this multidirectional way of looking with conflicting implications for possibility, moves readers through the essay in a way that mimics the motions of the Traveller from Livingstone. For example, the dates and numbering in Bradford’s essay are neither linear nor sequential, reminding us of how the Traveller journeys through an Africa in which time and space are radically altered. We move through the essay much like the Traveller in her quest—that is, not seeking to possess or discover meaning, an argument Bradford emphasizes with the title of his contribution, “The Smoke that Thunders,” a translation of Mosioatunya, the name local people use to describe the place Livingstone dubbed “Victoria Falls.” In his essay, Bradford goes looking for, and in turn takes us on, an odyssey that undercuts Livingstone’s colonial archives, reiterating the quest that forms part of Philip’s project.7

The first part of Bradford’s structure is marked by brevity; a question pertaining to silence in Livingstone is asked and then answered. If we take the distance between the question and the answer as a measure of silence and take this measurement as an invitation to journey alongside silence, we apprehend that the Traveller’s journey with silence is not a laughable joke (hence Bradford’s “no punchline”). Is it not the case that the Traveller escapes a circle of silence and is asked to “piece together the words of ([her]) silence”?8 Marked by interactivity, the structure’s second part imports archives of live performances, some of which Bradford viewed from recorded clips on YouTube, others where he was an audience member. Bradford’s process for this part is itself a journey: we cannot ignore the iterative transformations, nor can we ignore its “performance poetics, print textualizations of the oral+, and the place of visual culture at the oral-written interface.”9 Bradford is “conceptualizing continua” at the oral-visual-written interface, the layering process that Susan Gingell and Wendy Roy argue captures the “multimodal elements of communication.”10 Readers of Philip’s works are no strangers to her kinetic performance on the page. And in recent years, Philip’s collaborative performances of Zong! have been justly heralded and sought out. And yet Bradford’s essay shows that this performance tradition has been one of hers since the beginning of her writing life. After all, Livingstone predates Zong! by twenty years and, as Bradford reminds us, “[Livingstone] begins, as Philip puts it, with the last poem in She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks.” Which is to say, the textual performances that began in She Tries Her Tongue and continued through Looking for Livingstone to Zong! teach us ways that an archive is more a living stone that one sculpts than a silent tombstone for burial.

Bradford enjoins readers to include Philip’s lectures and performances in their analysis: they matter not simply because they form part of her writing career; they also matter because they get at the matter of her works and their participatory poetics. Such poetics bear the hallmark of Black aesthetics, especially its ceremonial and ritualistic dimensions, which summons readers to move from “mimesis [imitation] to methexis [participation].”11 Much like the Rastafari epistemology of I-n-I where the individual and collective are unopposed and on a continuum, methexis involves a concurrent doing, one less concerned with representation and meaning and more with an expanded sense of performative presentations and showings. As in Alleyne’s essay, the third part of Bradford’s essay structure, where he directly engages with Livingstone, makes it clear that Philip is not interested in thinking alone. Readers and audience members are invited into a “poelitics” of collaboration involving co-creation.12 In other words, Bradford (like the other contributors) underscores ways that a poetics of incompletion resides in Philip’s work.


The story that cannot be told must not-tell itself in a language already contaminated, possibly irrevocably and fatally. I resist the seduction of trying to cleanse it through ordering techniques and practices, for the story must tell itself, even if it is a partial story; it must be allowed to be and not be. (199)

The performative dimensions that Bradford foreground are again picked up in Momtaza Mehri’s contribution, which focuses on Philip’s Coups and Calypso, a play that chronicles the effects that coloniality has on non-White interracial romance and intimacies. The theatricality of the play is not simply the dramatic event that sets the play in motion but also the dramatic histories that inform the actions in the play. Through the marriage and subsequent divorce of Elvira, an Afro-Trinidadian doctor, and Rohan, an Indo-Trinidadian professor, the play challenges the common presumption that interracial relationships (usually involving White people) are fraught with misunderstanding.13 Elvira and Rohan’s relationship was constituted by histories of migration and movements, histories that are themselves constituted by global forces, including conquest, indentureship, and slavery. The play does not romanticize non-White interracial relationships as practices of liberation. What it brings to the fore, and what Mehri’s essay teases out beautifully, is that interracial relationships of all kinds are fraught, and that the politics of history, place, geography, and class inform and impact their unfolding.

The title of Mehri’s essay, “Six Days, One Night,” evokes the six days of government curfew imposed in Trinidad and Tobago in the summer of 1990 as a result of several government officials being held hostage by the coup, which it juxtaposes with the single night of the play’s action.14 The structure of her essay, with each of the six sections containing an epigraph, acknowledges the play’s acknowledgment of the coup’s effects on movements. In Mehri’s hands, the epigraphs are less ornamental or authoritative and more an argument. As epigraphic evidence, they each contain a thesis, forecasting the argument in the section that they head and, given the constraints of word count, expanding the dimensions of said argument by providing historical contexts and contents that enrich our understanding of the play. The opening epigraph, for example, cites from Mighty Dougla’s 1960s calypso “Split Me in Two,” a song that won him the title of Calypso King in 1961. While the lyrics of this musical epigraph highlight the fraught interracial politics of Afro- and Indo-Trinidadian intimacies, echoing a concern that Philip’s play addresses, the entangled musical traditions in calypso competitions invite us to consider the racial and sexual tensions that entangle diaspora and nation. In this way, the opening epigraph sets out the project of the epigraphs that follow, which chart a wide-ranging genealogy of thought from the Caribbean and beyond—from Philip herself to James Baldwin’s “Imagination,” Mahadai Das’s “They Came in Ships,” C. L. R. James’s “The Making of the Caribbean Peoples,” Earl Lovelace’s The Dragon Can’t Dance, and Carol Boyce Davis’s Black Women, Writing, and Identity: Migrations of the Subject. The epigraphs perform Mehri’s arguments and are worthy of close attention. In this way, the essay is itself a performance piece.

Mehri attributes the underrepresentation of the coup in Trinidad to “the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent Gulf War.” And her last epigraph cites Boyce Davis on the role Black migrants are called upon to play, in the Middle East, in imperialist projects. That these two references to the Middle East open and close her essay is no coincidence. While we can attribute her citations to the geographies of imperial power, I also want to read them as her invitation to us, Philip’s scholars, to expand the geographies of our thinking on the Black diaspora as a truly global phenomenon. After all, is it not the case that the preemptive coup d’etat that elicits the actions in Coups and Calypso occurred during Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar when Shiite Muslims in Trinidad and around the world commemorate the killing of Hussein, Prophet Muhammad’s grandson (believed to be the rightful successor of the Prophet), in a battle in Karbala, the place we today call Iraq? And is it not also the case that this commemorative practice that emerged in Iraq and Iran was transplanted to Trinidad by way of indentured laborers who were brought there by the British to replace Black enslaved laborers on the sugar, cocoa, and rubber plantations? In other words, just as Philip’s play asks us to grapple with the difficulties of non-White interracial intimacies and solidarities, Mehri’s essay invites us to grapple with the Middle Eastern, South Asian, and Caribbean contexts of the play, and in so doing asks us to attend to ways the entangled histories that imprint themselves onto our intimate relations get reproduced across the far-flung geographies of multiple empires.


In allowing myself to surrender to the text—silences and all—and allowing the fragmented words to speak to the stories locked in the text, I, too, have found myself “absolved” of “authorial intention.” So much so that even claiming to author the text through my own name is challenged by the way the text has shaped itself. The way it “untells” itself. (204)

Much like Philip’s essays, which insistently cross genres, Juliane Okot Bitek’s “Dis Place: On the Second Emancipation Day in Canada” blends travel narrative, autobiography, contemporary art, poetry, and the history of the Acholi peoples of Uganda. Bringing these into conversation, she recounts a day-long experience of traveling to and within the City of Toronto from Kingston, Ontario, where she currently lives. She meets with Philip for brunch at Café Diplomatico, and what unfolds in this lyric essay extends the attention, generosity, and collective dialogue of Black female friendship into other realms. The timing of their private meeting—1 August 2022—sits at the intersection of two public occasions. It was the second anniversary of Emancipation Day in Canada. Bitek’s poetic meditations on the limits of this national project echo Rinaldo Walcott’s The Long Emancipation: Moving Towards Freedom. The inauguration of this day has not moved us all toward freedom; it has not stopped racial violence toward Black lives; and it certainly has not uncoupled the link between Black life and capital. In 2022, Emancipation Day also coincided with the last day of Caribana, which is Toronto’s version of a Caribbean carnival. Bitek’s juxtaposition of both occasions is no coincidence. The infrastructures and architectures of slavery that remain intact on Emancipation Day are juxtaposed not only with the freedom of movement that Black folks seize during this festival to redefine the urban landscape of the city of Toronto, but also with the freedom of movement and redefinition we experience through Bitek’s art of meandering. 

Just as Mehri’s essay invites us to expand the geographies of the Black diaspora into the Middle East, Bitek’s reminds us of the histories of Arab-Muslim slavery in Uganda, returning us to Livingstone’s expedition and his obsessive belief that knowledge about the River Nile would help end the Arab slave trade that transported enslaved East Africans into the Middle East, granting him fame. Just as Bitek draws connections between the histories of transatlantic and Arab-Muslim slavery, she reflects on the bronze elephant sculpture by Brian Jungen that sits outside the entrance of the Art Gallery of Ontario, which she encounters after her meeting with Philip. Jungen’s public artwork, inspired by an 1885 captive circus elephant, leads Bitek to meditate on the totemic symbolism that the elephant holds for the Acholi people; while the elephant figures into their creation narratives, Bitek expands on its close kinship ties and regards it as “a symbol of reclamation.” She is struck by the parallel of the enslavement of Africans and the loss of freedom and opportunity of the elephant and reminds us that in order for this creature to become a subject of extractive capitalist entertainment, to become an obedient and willing servant, its spirit must be broken. Here, again, I am reminded of Walcott’s The Long Emancipation and his assertion that “the Black life-form in its most radical livability seeks to reject and rethink the human as a category through which pure radical possibilities for life-making might be available for all of us.15 The meandry form allows Bitek to make these links between histories of enslavement and practices of liberation.

Inevitably, the conversation between the poets assembled here raises questions of influence and inspiration. The response to Philip’s work has not been primarily scholarly. In other words, the impact of her career, then, is not best recorded by literary critics alone; her impact is also—perhaps most importantly—registered by the influence she has on other writers. In Bitek’s essay, for example, we see how Philip’s ability to inspire not only generates poetic material but also brings about and nourishes an enlarged appreciation for art and form. As I have been showing in this introduction, the essays’ focus on form—whether playing with or showing a sensitivity to form—highlights how integral it is to the work of reading and writing about Philip. And who is better able to show us this method other than poets? As an example, Bitek includes a poem that she wrote in collaboration with Philip, and there are many Black poets through whom we can see the poetic influence of Philip. Notably, Bitek’s poem appears under erasure: the text is struck through. While this is a popular strategy among contemporary poets, in the hands of Black poets it functions as a violent reminder of the ways we can simultaneously be read and erased, created and destroyed, seen but disfigured. In this context, the carefree pleasure that Bitek and Philip enjoy in Café Diplomatico might seem particularly fragile, seeing as this Emancipation Day is pressed by a past that cannot be erased. The past is with them in the same way that the text under erasure in Bitek’s poem is there—legible to those who can read it, obscured but nevertheless undeniable.


The elephant in the room of this special discussion is the de-centering of Zong!, the collection for which Philip is best known and which Bradford does treat in his essay. Though this work is of epic proportion, rarely do we attend to NourbeSe Philip as a chronicler of the past akin to Toni Morrison. In assembling this issue and rereading her work, I have found myself wondering if the literary establishment’s disinclination to a full engagement with her work is in part a result of the elision of Philip’s preoccupation with chronicling the past and with her body that moves through real time and space. In other words, Philip, the living writer, continues to pay the price for a past that people do not want to confront. Because she keeps it, because she guards it and preserves it, she also suffers from whatever makes people look away. She gets associated with her material, and because the material is distressing, readers and institutions turn away from the material, and in doing so they turn away from her.

Against the backdrop of these essays is the angst of the poets, writing on Philip, knowing she would read their contributions. Philip’s response, which closes this special discussion section, is, in true Philip fashion, a gift. In “Not Feeling Too British Today” she uses the occasion of Queen Elizabeth’s death to call much-needed attention to the particularities of the deep affects lodged in embodied responses: in her case, the current public mourning of the Queen (tears) is brought to bear on the imprints (sweat) of colonial education as a result of the British Empire. I am moved by the arc that autobiography curves through this essay that allows Philip to write into the borders we insert between genres and bodies. The young girl who opens the essay reminds us of the young girls in Harriet’s Daughter. In that novel, as in this essay, Philip turns to the figure of the young Black girl to dramatize processes of anticolonial memory, which for Philip involves new ways of sensing Black life within the invisible strictures of colonial grammar. She calls on us to develop an ear for Black speech in order to enter the grammars of Black Englishes, to feel the weight of sweat to gain access to Black cultural memory. For Philip, the vitality of sweat, of this bodily substance, serves as a knowledge vehicle because of its ability to embody memories and change states, as well as blur space and time. Make no mistake, whether detected or unseen, we experience the labor of sweat in the essay. I cannot imagine a better “matterphor” to carry across the hypervisibility of labor than sweat.16 The somatic response (sweat) and its representational contents (odors or stains)—noncognitive—make feelings dispositional. This is because the current feelings of the adult recalling memories result from feelings felt by the child, at a moment in development when feelings were not felt with a conscious awareness of them as holding knowledge. And yet she tells us, “i knowing something that i don’t know that I knowing in that sweating.” The young Black girl who sweated the weight of empire out of her pores, who did not know that her sweat knew she was sweating on empire, would grow up to teach others this somatic practice.


The five essays that follow extend discourse and form for how we talk about Philip’s meditations on language, history, colonialism, capitalism, imaging, religion, slavery, diaspora, and interracial love, intimacies, and solidarities. Together, the reading practices these five poet-critics develop show how Philip’s poetics is one of implication and relation, inviting readerly and active participation. So, as you read these essays, and witness Philip “Taking Today (to jerk it out of joint),”17do not hesitate to join in on the conversation.


Phanuel Antwi is an artist, an organizer, a curator, and an associate professor of English concerned with race, poetics, movements, intimacy, and struggle. He works with text, dance, film, and photography to intervene in artistic, academic, and public spaces. Dr. Antwi holds a Canada Research Chair in Black Arts and Epistemologies at the University of British Columbia, Canada.

[1] Dennis Gabor, “Acoustical Quanta and the Theory of Hearing,” Nature, no. 159 (May 1947): 591.

[2] M. NourbeSe Philip, “Notanda,” in Zong! As Told to the Author by Setaey Adamu Boateng (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2008), 204.

[3] I use quotations from “Notanda” in Zong! (187–207) as epigraphs to my discussions of the four essays. I do so as a way to include Philip’s text that bears the influence of the texts the four poets write on. Each quote is followed by a page citation.

[4] M. NourbeSe Philip, “The Absence of Writing, or How I Almost Became a Spy,” afterword to She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks (1989; repr., Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2015), 78. Note that while I cite the 2015 edition here, in her essay Alleyne cites the 1989 Ragweed Press edition in which the essay is the introduction, not the afterword.

[5] Jack A. Johnson-Hill, I-Sight: The World of Rastafari; An Interpretive Sociological Account of Rastafarian Ethics (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 1995), 22–23.

[6] In conversation with Mark Dery, the critic who is credited with coining the term Afrofuturism, we might regard Livingstone as an Afrofuturist text: “Can a community whose past has been deliberately rubbed out,” Dery asks, “and whose energies have subsequently been consumed for legible traces of its history, imagine possible futures?” Through fictioning the archive in ways that also fictionalize the future, Philip indeed imagines possible futures. Mark Dery, “Black to the Future: Interviews with Samuel R. Delany, Greg Tate, and Tricia Rose” in Mark Dery, ed., Flame Wars: The Discourse of Cyberculture (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1994), 180; M. NourbeSe Philip, Looking for Livingstone: An Odyssey of Silence (1991; repr., Montreal: Center for Expanded Poetics, 2018).

[7] While I am thinking about the Traveller in Livingstone, I am also thinking about Philip’s process in writing Zong!, especially the journeys she made to Ghana and other archives in England as she conducted her seven-year research on that project.

[8] Philip, Looking for Livingstone, 50. On the Traveller’s escape from the circle of silence, see 36–38.

[9] Susan Gingell, with Wendy Roy, “Opening the Door to Transdisciplinary, Multimodal Communication,” introduction to Susan Gingell and Wendy Roy, eds., Listening Up, Writing Down, and Looking Beyond: Interfaces of the Oral, Written, and Visual (Waterloo, ON: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2012), 42.

[10] Ibid., 5, 6.

[11] Kimberly W. Benston, Performing Blackness: Enactments of African-American Modernism (New York: Routledge, 2000), 148. A different politics of practice: one simply need pay attention to the ways the Lebanese artist Rana Hamadeh, who imitated Zong!, missed the transformative possibilities that emerge in and through the work as a matter of participating in its activation. Philip maps the controversy at http://www.setspeaks.com/.

[12] Myriam J. A. Chancy uses the neologism “poelitics” to underscore “a dynamic fusion of poetics and women-centered politics.” She writes, “I see these visions as describing a particular process many Afro-Caribbean women are forced to confront within their exile. This process has four distinguishing features: alienation, self-definition, recuperation, and return” (xxi, emphasis in original). Myriam J. A. Chancy, “Natif-Natal,” prologue to Searching for Safe Spaces: Afro-Caribbean Women Writers in Exile (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1997), xxi (italics in original).

[13] From Harriet’s Daughter to Coups and Calypso, we see a trend in the ways Philip depicts Black girls and women as accomplished, inventive, influential, and beautiful. Elvira, for example, is not imaged in the containing representations of Black female desirability, those that render Black women vulnerable to physical, emotional, and sexual violence. Not only is Elvira loveable, she lives for herself. She is not positioned outside the cultural currency in which Black men are the preferred subjects of interracial figurations. When Philip shifts away from the Mississippi Masala trend, what kinds of questions does her play raise in portraying a non-Black non-White man with capacities to see and love a Black woman, even if the play also portrays the limits of said man’s capacities to see and love her through the course of her changing self?

[14] On 27 July 1990, the Muslim organization Jamaat al Muslimeen, led by Yasin Abu Bakr, stormed the parliament, Trinidad and Tobago Television, and Radio Trinidad. They bombed the police headquarters, held hostages—including the prime minister, A. N. R. Robinson, and most of his cabinet—in the Red House, Trinidad’s parliamentary building, putting Port of Spain into a frenzy. They demanded that the government and military surrender. They also demanded the resignation of the prime minister and that Yasin Abu Bakr be made minister of national security. They further demanded elections be called within ninety days. All these resulted in a standoff that lasted until their surrender, six days later, on 1 August (which is also Emancipation Day in Trinidad and Tobago), when the prime minister signed an amnesty agreement with Yasin Abu Bakr. It was this promise of amnesty that led Jamaat al Muslimeen members to surrender. 

[15] Rinaldo Walcott, The Long Emancipation: Moving toward Black Freedom (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2021), 72 (italics mine).

[16] I borrow this term from Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and Lowell Duckert, who say of natural elements in poetry: “Through their action metaphor becomes matterphor, a tropic-material coil, word and substance together transported: of language but not reducible to linguistic terms, agentic and thick.” Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and Lowell Duckert, “Eleven Principles of the Elements,” introduction to Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and Lowell Duckert, eds., Elemental Ecocriticism: Thinking with Earth, Air, Water, and Fire (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 2015), 11.

[17] Gwendolyn Brooks, “Young Afrikans,” in Family Pictures (Detroit: Broadside, 1970), 7–8.


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